Starfish on Oregon coast gradually recovering following wasting - KPTV - FOX 12

Starfish on Oregon coast gradually recovering following wasting disease

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Starfish on the Oregon coast are gradually recovering, after a disease wiped out more than half the population in 2014.

The wasting disease, which had an unknown origin, killed between 60 percent and 90 percent of the sea star population at any given site along the coast.

"Animals developed lesions on their bodies. Sometimes those got worse and turned into holes through their outer body wall. Sometimes arms fell off," said Bruce Menge, an OSU researcher working to evaluate the extent of the sea stars' recovery.

Sea stars are considered a "keystone species," an apex predator in intertidal zones, which keep populations of mussels and barnacles in check.

"If you lose a key predator along the whole coast, the whole structure, the whole pattern of abundance and distribution of species will change in a major way," said Menge.

Menge and his research team are currently trying to determine how tide pools along the coast changed in the absence of sea stars. In conducting the research, they are finding sea stars to be quite resilient.

"The population is rebounding.  A lot of young ones are present," said Menge.

Although the species appears to be recovering, Menge said coastal visitors have noticed their absence.

"I've talked to a lot of people over the last few years just coming out to the tidepool and look around the rest of the shore, they really miss seeing the many colorful sea stars," said Menge.

Menge said the starfish that survived the die-off may have a resistance to the wasting disease, which continues to infect some animals, which means the offspring of the surviving sea stars may also be disease-resistant, which would allow them to eventually bring coastal tidepools back into balance as they grow to maturity. 

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